A threatened and suspicious person is capable of behaving in a vicious manner. Most of us have our little kingdoms, and we are quite defensive of them. Today our country is being threatened by three countries labeled as “the axis of evil.” The leaders of these countries have demonstrated their lack of respect for human life, which makes their threats to destroy us very serious. This leads us to the international question: “Should we destroy their threats by going to war?” There are a variety of opinions to that question.
It was suspicion and insecurity that was getting the best of Herod. Human nature does not change. Herod of Judea and Hussein of Iraq display their low value of human life. If someone becomes a threat to their kingdoms, there is only one thing to do Ñ get rid of them. It is reported Hussein killed thousands of his own people when they became a threat to his power. It did not bother Herod to kill children if they were going to be a threat to his kingdom in the future.
William Barclay, a noted Biblical commentator, writes, “He was called Herod the Great, and in many ways he deserved the title. He was the only ruler of Palestine to succeed in keeping the peace and bringing order into disorder. He was a great builder; indeed, he was the builder of the Temple in Jerusalem. He could be generous. In times of difficulty he remitted the taxes to make things easier for the people. In the famine of 25 B.C. he had actually melted down his old gold plate to buy corn for starving people. But Herod had one terrible flaw in his character: he was almost insanely suspicious. He had always been suspicious, and the older he became the more suspicious he grew until, in his old age, he was Ôa murderous old man.’ If he suspected anyone as a rival to his power, that person was promptly eliminated. He murdered his wife, her mother, and several of his sons. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.
With this suspicious personality, it is no surprise that Herod was upset when he learned of Jesus’ birth. That babe was a potential threat to his little kingdom; therefore, Jesus had to be killed. Herod’s tricky approach to the Christ child was to use the Magi, who had come from the east and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Learning from the high priests that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod sent the Magi on their way to worship Him. Finding the house in Bethlehem, these men presented Jesus with gifts; then they bowed down and worshiped Him. God warned them in a dream not to report back to Herod. When Herod heard he had been outwitted, he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and younger.
Herod is an example of a threatened person behaving in a vicious manner. The history books present hundreds of examples of how world leaders have acted in a like manner. Hitler and Stalin were not bothered by killing millions of people who threatened their plans in building their kingdoms.
That same anger reveals itself in many of us who would never think of carrying it to the extreme of doing physical harm to another person. We have our own ways of showing anger to those who might be threatening our little kingdom. It can come with false accusations aimed at destroying a person’s worth. It can come through political manipulation, which dismisses people from the social scene. We can be as tricky as old Herod, for inwardly we are perhaps as angry as he with those who threaten us.
We hear the expressions of many people who have become suspicious of God. They are convinced He has destroyed their little kingdoms, and they carry anger toward Him.
I think of my friend who never goes to church. One day I asked him to attend our Easter service. He replied, “Thanks for the invitation. I wondered how long it would take for you to invite me to church. However, I had enough of Jesus when I was a kid. I want no more of him. He robbed me of some pleasures I could have enjoyed had I not been restricted by His teachings that mother was always quoting.” There was hostility in his voice that sent a clear message: this man, even in retirement, continues to be angry with God.
A grief-stricken mother asks, “Where was God when my daughter died leaving behind her children to be raised by another woman? If God is so all-knowing and merciful, why did He let this happen? My kingdom collapsed when I lost my daughter.”
God is a threat to this woman. She realizes God has the power to do the miraculous. Nevertheless, by not healing her daughter, she believes He threw a vicious attack against her family. She does not deny God’s existence. She is just angry with God and perhaps will remain that way until her dying day. How would we respond had it been our daughter? It would be understandable that we would question the truth of the Biblical passages that present God as a loving, heavenly Father. It is so easy to speak piously of God when all is going well. How natural it is to be angry with Him when life threatens us and we feel He does nothing about it. Our little kingdom has been attacked, and God, with His almighty power, could have prevented it.
Herod never knew how Jesus could have enriched his life. Had Herod been sincere in his desire to come and worship Jesus, his life could have drastically changed to be a blessing to others in the last years of his life. He could have reconciled with his family, who must have hated him for killing their mother and brothers. He could have won the admiration of his constituents had he governed as a man of God and not as a tyrant to be feared. The sad ending is that Herod, as far as we know, died with the same suspicious and insecure personality that tortured him throughout his life.
My friend who had enough of Jesus when he was a young man never experienced what the Lord could do for him. He did not believe that Christ only takes away from us that which can destroy us. He gives us blessings to enrich our life. Those teachings of Jesus did show my friend his sinfulness, but they also assured him of forgiveness and freedom to live with new goals and purposes in life. Sad to say, he died still angry with God.
The mother who continues to be bitter over her daughter’s death is robbing herself of the comfort and peace that only God can give. Instead she lives with insecurity, because she is not at all sure she can trust God’s Word. She is truly suspicious of God.
There are plenty of people in the world who can threaten us, but Jesus Christ is not one of them. He is the One who can make us secure and mature people. In faith we can say with St. Paul, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” This is a promise that cannot be taken from us.